Elephants recognize mirror image of themselves

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Wednesday, November 1, 2006

If you put an elephant in front of a mirror, it will be able to recognize itself, according to a study performed by scientists on three female elephants at the Bronx Zoo located in New York City, New York.

During a test on the elephants named Happy, Maxine and Patty, a mirror was placed in their habitat and all three of the animals went over to the mirrors when they were released back into their habitats.

"Maxine, Patty and Happy immediately went over to the mirror when they were let out, which was really a surprise to us because most animals, when exposed to a mirror, act immediately as if it were another animal," said a student who took place in the experiment and studies at Emory University located in Atlanta, Georgia, Josh Plotnik.

The mirrors were initially covered and when the elephants went to examine the new item, the cover was removed. Another elephant also began to play with a painted "white 'X'" on its head when it walked in front of the mirror.

"They would go over smell it and then leave. They went straight for it — there was a lot of smelling the very first day. Both Maxine and Patty tried to climb the mirror wall and look over it," added Plotnik.

Despite the activity, the elephants Plotnik says, who are usually very vocal to each other were silent during their examination of the mirrors.

"I was really surprised that there was no audible vocalization. These elephants are extremely vocal," Plotnik said.

Until this study had been performed, only two other animals were known to be able to recognize themselves in mirrors - Dolphins and chimpanzees.

"This ability to recognize themselves in a mirror suggests a higher level of self-awareness," said a senior scientist who was a co-publisher of the study, which was reported in the National Academy of Sciences, Diana Reiss.